Monday, 13 June 2011

The importance of context

An awful lot of 'voodoo' polls get thrown around by people seeking to make points. Notably about traits and attributes of the party leaders and what this might be said to mean. It makes for good newspaper copy, but if you want to understand polls then the first thing is that context is crucial.

If for example we'd taken polls of one US congress we might find great significance in low approval ratings and speculate accordingly about re-election prospects, because we have polls of many of them we find that low approval ratings are normal.

The lesson is simple, for any poll it is meaningless without context and a baseline, instead of thinking about high or low think of better or worse than. No matter how good a poll looks, don't put too much faith in it unless you have repeat results to compare with.

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